Goodness me, what a story. When I first read Jane’s account of her rage and pain, I could relate. But what comes next you cannot miss…
“But you know you have to forgive me, don’t you?”
This from my husband, who’d left us only a matter of weeks before. We were standing just inside the French doors that opened onto what used to be “our” garden. I looked at him, my face impassive, my mind whirring.
My theology is pretty sound on forgiveness, as it happens. I’ve done my time in Sunday School and have progressed through the ranks until I could consider myself fairly well-versed – if you’ll pardon the pun – in Scripture. I’ve got a degree in it, for goodness’ sake. I’ve also got a pretty active conscience and a genuine relationship with Jesus. I know what I’m supposed to do.
The verse that always struck me so very particularly was the one where it says unless we forgive others, our Father in heaven won’t forgive us. Boy! Do I need forgiveness! Countless times a day when I’m careless with my words – for either saying too much or nothing at all; being un-steward-like with my time; having an attitude that smells like a mouldering compost heap instead of the fragrance of Christ. If I don’t get forgiven, I’m sunk.
Most of the time it works quite well. If I get over myself and stop being so offended and over-sensitive then it’s fairly easy to forgive what people do against me. Most of the time we’re just tired, let’s face it. People don’t always mean stuff. Some things take me a bit longer to work through, admittedly; but I get there, I really do.
But this. The man I’d been married to for twenty-one years, who had recently decided that his love affair with my best friend needed placing on a firmer footing, was telling me – not terribly nicely – that however badly he’d behaved, I had to forgive him.
I gave him no answer, but he was right; and this was not really about him, although he was playing a fairly major role. I did have to forgive. I didn’t have the choice I would have liked. If I still want my Father in heaven to forgive me, then I have to forgive others. Even the big stuff like infidelity. I still loved him at that point and found that forgiving him was easier than I’d imagined. When it came to “her,” however, it was a whole other story.
I hated her, I’m not going to lie! I had frequent day-dreams where I would have her pinned up against a wall, my free hand smashing her head against the brick-work. I imagined pummelling her with blows until she could barely crawl away. Forgive her, Lord? Really?
Of course I had to, for all the reasons given above. Plus, I was determined not to become a bitter old divorcee and I knew that forgiveness was the antidote to that particular venom. After an awful long time, I got myself to the point where I told God that I did intend to forgive her. Not yet, but I would. That transmuted to saying “I forgive her” but without it touching my heart. It took something else to get me the whole way.
I happened to help run an annual holiday for single-parent families. Oh, the irony of finding myself among their ranks! As the week approached, I knew I couldn’t tell any of these mums what I hadn’t been able to do myself. I had to do it, and it had to be now.
How kind God is! I remember sitting on my bed thinking, “This is it.” I began as before, speaking out the words without engaging my heart. Then something shifted. I listened to the words coming from my mouth. It sounded like someone who meant it. My heart beat faster. The words intensified. By the time I was done, I’d forgiven her “freely, willingly and from the heart” (my exact phrase); and in the nick of time. A lady came to me for ministry. She was physically weak and mentally broken, unable to forgive her ex-husband. I shared with her about forgiveness, telling her my story. A year later we met again: her health restored, her mind free, her spirit joyful – just like mine.
Jane Clamp is Creative Writer in Residence on the Sunday Breakfast Show of BBC Radio Norfolk and on the Thought of the Day team at Premier Radio. She writes a monthly blog for the Association of Christian Writers and preaches regularly at her church. In her free time, she is an Interior Designer and plays saxophone in function band, The Ideals.